Members' Research Service By / February 17, 2023

Improving resilience in transport

A resilient transport system is one that can quickly respond to these disruptions, recover and return to normal operations.

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Written by Jaan Soone with Jonas Matthias Winkel.

Resilience in transport refers to the ability of a transportation system to recover from disruptions, adapt to changing conditions and continue to provide users with reliable and efficient services. This resilience can be affected by various factors such as weather events, accidents, equipment failures, system overload, political crises and other unexpected events.

A resilient transport system is one that can quickly respond to these disruptions, recover and return to normal operations. For example, a resilient transport system may have redundancy built into its infrastructure or have contingency plans in place to mitigate the impact of disruptions.

Resilience in transport is important because it ensures that people and goods can continue to move efficiently and safely even in the face of unexpected events. This is particularly important for critical infrastructure such as airports, seaports and highways, where disruptions can have far-reaching impacts on the economy and society.

With the COVID-19 crisis and the war in Ukraine, the EU transport sector has had much to contend with in the last three years. This has further highlighted the importance of looking at the sector’s resilience. The Commission published a new contingency plan for transport in the summer of 2022 and an agreement was reached in December 2022 on improving the resilience of critical entities, including transport companies. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, contact restrictions, public transport closures and border closures affected traffic. In the current crisis, truck drivers have been stranded in conflict zones, the airspace in these conflict zones is closed, and Ukraine’s transport infrastructure has been destroyed and blocked. As a result, supply chains are disrupted and food and energy prices are rising across the world.

The EU decided on a number of immediate measures to support Ukraine’s economy and economic recovery and help to stabilise world food markets and improve global food security, including improvements in transportation links. On 12 May 2022, EU Member States decided to establish alternative transport links between the EU and Ukraine for all modes of transport. These ‘solidarity lanes‘ were developed, in particular, to transport agricultural products from Ukraine and bring the required grain to the world market. Normally, Ukraine delivers about 45 million tonnes of grain annually to the world market, but Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports have prevented grain from being shipped and have caused food prices to rise. The lives of millions of people who depend on this grain are at risk.

The solidarity lanes have already enabled more than 15 million tonnes of grain to be exported by sea, rail and road. In addition, the Black Sea Grain (BSG) initiative has unblocked Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, helping to end tensions in global food prices. Through the BSG initiative, more than 12 million tonnes of food have already been shipped. The solidarity lanes are also being used for non-agricultural products, such as fuel and aid, and the corridors have already enabled Ukraine to generate more than €15 billion in revenue.

To maintain and further develop the corridors, the EU has mobilised new investment. The Commission is fast-tracking funding of €250 million to expand the corridors and, in the medium term, there will be investment in permanent infrastructure to further expand and strengthen the solidarity lanes. Together with partner financial institutions and the European Investment Bank, the EU is providing a total of €1 billion to strengthen and expand the corridors.

To develop a longer-term approach to ensuring transportation in times of crisis, on 23 May 2022 the Commission published a contingency plan for transport to improve the resilience of the transport sector in the EU in times of crisis. The Commission’s goal is to ensure that, even during crises, flows of goods are not interrupted and transport services can be provided without delay.

To improve crisis preparedness and response capabilities, the Commission is proposing a number of measures to respond quickly and effectively to crises. For example, it wants EU transport legislation to be amended quickly to introduce provisions to improve the way major crises are managed. The connectivity and sustainability of the EU transport system should also be improved and further financial resources mobilised to respond to crises.

Strengthening cybersecurity is an essential tool to improve the resilience of the transport sector, according to the plan. The Commission and EU agencies should therefore continue to support the development of cybersecurity protocols to ensure continuity of operations in the event of a disruption.

The Commission also recommends conducting emergency exercises to assess crisis preparedness. The lessons that can be learned from these exercises should help agencies prepare for emergencies.

The plan promotes several key principles that should apply in crisis response. For example, restricting the movement of goods and personnel must only be a last resort; there must be no discrimination based on nationality when measures are introduced; the measures taken must be coordinated; all measures must be disclosed transparently and be traceable; and attention should be paid to passengers with special needs and transport workers, who should be supported in the best possible way.

A number of other initiatives have been put in place to develop resilience in the EU’s policy measures, including those for improving resilience in transport.

In 2020, the Commission proposed to revise and expand the critical infrastructure directive to further strengthen the rules in light of the new challenges facing the EU, such as the rise of the digital economy, the growing impacts of climate change, and terrorist threats. The Commission argued that recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown the vulnerability of increasingly interdependent societies in the face of high-impact, low-probability risks and how supply chain disruptions can have a negative economic and societal impact across a large number of sectors and across borders.

Following the changes introduced by the Council and Parliament, the legal act was adopted in December 2022. The directive aims to bolster resilience of ‘critical entities’ – organisations in sectors such as energy, transport, health and drinking water. To this end, EU countries will put in place national strategies, carrying out regular risk assessments, and identify the critical entities that provide essential services. According to the rules, these critically important organisations – such as transport operators, airports, ports and intelligent transport operators – will need to identify the relevant risks that may significantly disrupt the provision of essential services, take appropriate counter-measures to ensure their resilience, and notify authorities of disruptive incidents.

Meanwhile, some current rules on enhancing ship and port facility security, enhancing port security and civil aviation security already require entities in the aviation and maritime transport sectors to prevent incidents caused by unlawful acts and to resist and mitigate the consequences of such incidents. Furthermore, the 2014 EU maritime security strategy and its action plan, which are currently being revised, call for increased protection of critical maritime infrastructure, including underwater infrastructure.

Indeed, the EU has been pushing for greater focus on critical transport and energy protection for some years. The European programme for critical infrastructure protection (EPCIP), set up in 2006, aimed to provide a framework for activities to improve the protection of critical infrastructure in Europe, not only from terrorism but also from criminal activities, natural disasters and other causes of accidents. Meanwhile, a directive on critical infrastructure protection for the energy and transport sectors was adopted in 2008, which the new critical entities directive has replaced.

At the level of strategic planning, the 2020 Strategic Foresight Report aimed to introduceresilience as a new compass for EU policymaking. For example, the report lists transport infrastructure as one of the key enablers of economic resilience. In its 2022 Strategic Foresight Report, the Commission outlined how the policy priorities of greening and digitalisation can foster further resilience in the EU. For example, greater use of digitalisation and autonomous vehicles – which itself will depend on societal acceptance, on investment and on a supportive policy framework – would allow the development of mobility as a service, micromobility, pooling and sharing and new services to improve contact with regions, further improving transport efficiency as well as connectivity and accessibility.

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